Week 47 – What have you discovered about God so far in our reading?

It’s time for transition.. from the Old to the New.. Jesus is the Centerpiece of God’s New Work of salvation!

DAY ONE – Nehemiah 11-13

If you can stretch your imagination for a moment, suppose that, after a chilling invasion from a foreign power, everybody who was anybody in Washington D.C. was exiled to foreign soil to live out their life. The president, his family; all congressmen and any living with them; cabinet members and their families, top military officials at the Pentagon; and the head of every government agency, along with high-ranking members of their staffs; and those who were movers and shakers in other disciplines–all were removed to their new foreign home to live in exile. The United States government would be effectively gutted and unable to function. Everything at the federal centers would shut down and throw our country into chaos and confusion. International relations between U.S. and other powers would be nonexistent. Our beloved nation would be ripe for picking by others who have waited for an opportunity. It won’t likely happen, but the scenario I created did happen in another time–to Israel, and to Judah and Jerusalem! Over seventy years later, Nehemiah came from exile to help rebuild the capital city of Jerusalem and reconstitute government as it originally existed. And if we understand that Israel–a nation really “under God” in the form of theocracy (God rules), nothing short of a religious revival would give these people a future. So Ezra the scribe and Nehemiah the temporary governor persisted in restoring all the religious festivals, the security of Jerusalem, and the replacement of the priests and Levites to their godly functions. When all was again in order, the people could breathe a huge sigh of relief and resume their place as the “holy people.” Priests and Levites were serving God in the temple, praise was being heard everyday by the singers, the festivals with the Sabbath were being regularly celebrated, and those in charge of supplies and rations were doing an excellent job. Jerusalem was repopulated by having good people move from their hometowns to the capital. It was a mammoth restoration!

Feeling he had done what he could, Nehemiah, after twelve years of involvement, returned to his place in the palace of King Artaxerxes to serve as before; but then, a few years later, he made another trip to Israel and Jerusalem to see how things were going. What he found was disconcerting, to say the least. The temple was profaned, supplies and rations had dwindled, forcing many to go back from God’s service to their fields; and the Sabbath was regularly violated with commerce and work. With great sincerity and effort he performed another restoration so that the recovery would not be forever lost. From this we understand that spiritual vigilance is absolutely necessary in every generation, and God’s leaders with God’s people must be ever persistent in our faith to pass spiritual legacy to the next generation. What can you personally do to restore righteousness in your sphere of influence? Psalm 126 (NLT)  When the Lord  (Yahweh) brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! 2 We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” 3 Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy! 4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert. 5 Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. 6 They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.

Earth will never be heaven. Although the Garden of Eden was like a heaven on earth, it was soon soiled and corrupted by the first couple, Adam and his wife Eve, when they rebelled against God and His word. Tomorrow we turn a page into  the New Testament  of the Bible, and with it we begin our foray into God’s unfolding plans for salvation, the restoration of a kind of heaven on earth, and the great struggle to gain our eternal home in the new heavens and earth, by learning to follow the Lord daily. But before we embark, I want to tell you about a book I just read, Imagine Heaven, by Pastor John Burke. I plan to read it again, because it reminds me of Psalm 126 we just read. It’s as if living here on earth is, in a sense, a kind of exile. Those of us who know the Lord in personal relationship somehow know inwardly that this place is not our real home, not our final dwelling. There is a heaven yet to gain. There is a hell to avoid. Imagine Heaven contains the accounts of near death experiences (NDE) of hundreds of people all over the globe, whose stories, having been recorded and studied by doctors, medical people, and others, for decades, reveal a fantastic and wonderful glimpse of the heaven God has prepared, a telescopic view into the eternities, and answers to some of our deepest questions about the future. It brings together Scripture with experience to help us long for heaven as the exiles longed for their city of Jerusalem. Read the little psalm again and imagine yourself just entering heaven with your Lord. It’s like a dream, but it is NOT a dream. It’s real. So stay with us; we are about to meet God’s Answer to everything–not a philosophy but a Person! We are about to meet Jesus. And He wants to not only give us experiences of heaven on earth, He wants to take us to heaven as our final home–finally!

DAY TWO – Psalm 106, John 1:4-14, Matthew 1, Luke 1:1-2:38

After one more brief review of Israel’s up and down history in relation to Yahweh God, we step into one of the most miraculous and wondrous seasons in which the Holy Spirit explodes into the human condition, to begin the reveal of God’s loving and enduring plan to save our world from destruction. John and Jesus–a Forerunner and a Fulfillment–are God’s answers to both our questions and our needs. John was born to a post-menopausal woman with no children, and Jesus was born to a virgin teenager, engaged but still innocent. God’s angel, who stands in His presence, was sent to each of these families to announce what was about to happen. It’s really interesting to note the genealogy of Jesus, for there were several unlikely persons in the mix–the first being Rahab, a prostitute who lived in Jericho at the time of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. She was not a Jew. The second is Ruth. She was not a Jew. And the third is Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah, whom King David murdered after his passion played out. God always has to make do with what He has, but He displays His glory by redeeming what we think is not acceptable or redeemable. None of us can ever boast about who we are or where we came from, for God Himself is the source of all that is good. So in a dream, Joseph was told by an angel that his soon-to-be wife’s pregnancy was the work of the Holy Spirit, and that the child to be born would fulfill a prophecy that He is “Emmanuel, God with us.” In the angel’s announcement of the same event to Mary, the angel said that they would call Him Jesus, “for He will save His people from their sins.” The name Jesus, in English, is a contraction of God’s Name Yahweh and the word for savior; or “God saves.” Everything we are reading today is of a miraculous nature, for our God is naturally supernatural!

As the shepherds were amazed by the angelic presentation to them out in the fields with their sheep; and as they were more amazed when they went and actually saw the baby referred to, they dispersed and immediately began to share their good fortune with others, by telling the Glad News of the Savior Child. Do we have only history to talk about, or is there Good News that makes us glad also? What good news comes of the Lord’s grace in your life? What recent situation reassures you of God’s faithfulness and desire to bless your life? Tell someone about it, so others can rejoice with you!

DAY THREE – Matthew 2, Luke 2:39-52

Roger Federer, the great tennis player, had just won his match to advance at Wimbledon. As I watched him leaving the court, an enthusiastic fan held up her banner for all to see these words: “All hail King Roger!” This is the stuff of celebrity worship, and it goes on all the time in sports and entertainment. In our reading today, we meet three wise men, guided by a celestial wonder, who traveled for weeks to find the young Jesus. Matthew 2:2 (NKJV)  “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” This is the stuff of prophetic significance which changes outcomes in our world! Jesus turned out to be the greatest world changer who ever lived–His virgin birth, His supernatural life, His sacrificial death, and His unheard of resurrection. No one in history has even come close. But with all of this, He had a human beginning–born in a cattle stall in Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt as an infant, returning to live in obscurity during His childhood in Nazareth. All of these fulfill statements spoken during the hundreds of years leading up to His entrance into our sphere. I suppose we humans are wired to worship someone, somewhere. Why waste worship on other human beings, no matter how star studded, when there is truly One who was born to be a king? Not just a king, but the King of Heaven. It didn’t look like that at first; when He was twelve, His parents frantically searched Jerusalem for Him for three days, finally discovering Him in the temple, where He was confounding the Jewish intellectuals with His spiritual wisdom.  Luke 2:49-52 (NKJV)  And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  50 But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. 51 Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. Who is this boy? We know so little about His childhood, but these glimpses of His family give us clues about what we are soon to discover.

It is likely that there are objects of worship within you. Are they worthy of that level of attention and admiration? Do they hold up to the “eternity” test, or are they merely creatures and things of temporal affection that will soon pass? If we have ever taken time to examine our interests and priorities in the light of what is yet to come, this would be a good time to evaluate where your road is taking you. Are you with Jesus?

DAY FOUR – Matthew 3, Mark 1:1-11, Luke 3, John 1:15-34

It was time for transition. Israel had waited four hundred years for Messiah to come. Moses and the prophets had looked forward and had all spoken of Someone special who would arrive to lead Israel to God. And now there was a man named John who was traveling all over Judea, preaching about the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ So compelling was his message, so powerful was his preaching, and so eccentric was his personage, that multitudes came out to hear him and were confessing their sins. John’s answer was to baptize them in water and announce the arrival of One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. We are often already in transition before we realize it. Occasionally we have passed through transition into a new season and see it only as we look back. All of this was true as John lifted Messiah’s banner high for all to see, all the while claiming that he was not Messiah. According to John, Jesus was close behind, and when He appeared, the people were to follow Him, for He was the Son of God and had authority to baptize individuals with the Holy Spirit. Expectation, alarm, confusion, questioning,  followed John wherever he went. Disciples willingly followed him. Some thought he was a prophet, or Elijah, or even Messiah himself. But John said “No”. As prophesied by Isaiah some 700 years earlier, John correctly identified himself as a ‘forerunner’ or ‘crier’ who runs ahead of another preparing and clearing the way. As such then, his ministry lasted for only a few months, for Jesus was ready. After being baptized by John, Jesus went into the wilderness to meet the devil in a personal contest that lasted forty days. Then He walked into Galilee.

Are we again in transition? Perhaps our whole world is? When Jesus appeared publicly for his short season of ministry, many believed Him. Some scoffed and denounced Him. The world at that time was in transition, for religion was about to be replaced by relationship with a Person. A thousand years of the Jewish religion was giving way to God’s Son who would lead people to know the Heavenly Father. And now another two thousand years have come and gone. Is this the time we are all waiting for? Will Jesus return soon? The crowds who heard John looked for Messiah. Who is looking for Him today? I AM! I am as expectant, as believing, as hopeful as I can be. Are you? Do you realize the world is in transition, or will you awaken to the saddening awareness that it passed without you?

DAY FIVE – Matthew 4:1-22, Mark 1:12-20, Luke 4:1-15, 5:1-11, John 1:35-2:12, Matthew 13:54-58, Mark 6:1-6, Luke 4:16-30

Did you note in your reading that, after His baptism, Jesus went, or was driven, full of the Holy Spirit, into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil? After forty days of fasting and prayer with His Father in heaven, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit. He was ready. His FIRST message announced that the Kingdom of God had come, and it was time to repent of sins and believe the Gospel. His FIRST miracle was impressive: turn ordinary water into the best wine at the wedding! His FIRST visit to His home town of Nazareth was met by a very cool reception from those who thought they knew Him–this might explain how ordinary his early life appeared to be. No matter how you viewed Jesus, He would not be ignored. Some would leave everything and become his disciples. Others would reject Him outright. The crowds would clamor around Him because they wanted to hear Him teach or because they wanted some kind of miracle or concession from Him. But be aware, few ignored Jesus. Yes, He divided the crowd. Yes, He created a new level of spiritual excitement and expectation. And yes, He attracted attention every place He went. But what was it, really? The answer is, He was full of the Holy Spirit and worked in the power of the Spirit. When He called a disciple, the Holy Spirit was at work. When He performed a miracle, the Holy Spirit was at work. And when He taught and preached, the Holy Spirit was at work. When you couple that with the realization that He had no sin in His life, it is a powerful, transforming reality. Jesus was ready to bring heaven to earth, to fulfill God’s plan to save all who were willing, and to link earth back to heaven through His Holy Spirit connection!

May I suggest that, as we read through the New Testament books, you fix your eyes on Jesus? Relate everything you read back to Jesus–whether the author is Dr. Luke, Matthew, or any of the apostles, including Apostle Paul. Jesus is the key to every mystery, the interpretation of every belief, and the foundation stone of all of heaven’s Good News. He is Son of God and God the Son. He is calling you to follow Him for the rest of your life.

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